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Review of Eye Exercises

How do you choose the best Eye Exercises?

We will review several eye exercise techniques and methods, and then provide a checklist of what should be included in a good Eye Exercise Program.

The checklist is at the end of the review.

We look at:

Pinhole Glasses.  Bates Method.  Palming.  Tromboning.  Edging.  Sunning.  Pirate Patches.


Pinhole glasses

These are glasses with many small holes in the lenses. They work by reducing the amount of light entering the eye. These can “improve” vision and the ability to read or see with less blur, but only while being worn. This positive effect is because they cut down “off axis” rays of light. Or in other words, excess or slightly out of focus light that the eye is having trouble dealing with. This function is what can enable pinhole glasses to relax the eyes, which can be a great help, particularly in trying to avoid or minimize use of glasses.

Negatives of pinhole glasses: They do not improve the actual vision system. They can help with the symptoms while being worn, but they do not address the underlying causes. They also don’t provide any actual eye exercise when being used. The other down side is that pinhole glasses can inadvertently contribute to weakening of vision by supporting suppression of vision in the weaker eye. This happens because, without being aware of doing so, there is a preference to use the stronger eye when “looking” through the holes. If you have a pair of pinhole glasses, you could demonstrate this to yourself. Put them on, and begin reading some text, then close one eye. You may well discover that you were only looking through one pinhole anyway, and that you were unconsciously favoring the weaker eye! When this happens the weaker eye is allowed to deteriorate even more because of less activity.

Positives for pinhole glasses: They can be useful as a way of helping your eyes to relax and see “better”. This advantage may reduce the need for glasses, or even dependence on glasses. The negatives noted above do not mean you should avoid pinhole glasses. The solution is to add good eye exercises to make sure you don’t allow your eyes to continue to weaken. Remember, in this sense, pinhole glasses are no different to traditional glasses. Neither will not stop underlying deterioration, so adding an eye exercise program to address underlying vision issues will get the best out of your pinhole glasses and improve your underlying vision at the same time. 

We don’t stock pinhole glasses, but you can pick them up for just a few dollars online.


Bates Method

This is a popular system, highly promoted on the Net. Like many natural methods, there is much debate about its value. Many of the eye exercises mentioned below originate with the Bates Method. In spite of giving it a mediocre rating, because its exercises do not address the underlying causes of most vision problems, some of the techniques are helpful. As we note below, some we suggest you do not use, or at least use with care. Many programs offered online, even ones you will pay for, use at least part, if not all techniques from the Bates Method. If you read our review of the Bates Method, you will see this is reason for caution, particularly if you are spending money. Everything the Bates Method offers is free online somewhere.  YouTube has some excellent ones, so we suggest you not go buying eye exercise programs based on the Bates Method.

See our Review of The Bates Method

See also our “How Vision Therapy Works



(From Bates) Palming is the rubbing of the hands together to warm them up, and then placing them over the eyes for anywhere from a few moments to a minute or so. It is relaxing and beneficial. We recommend this in our program, but only as a way of relaxing the eyes after advanced workouts. It does not provide any benefit for issues to do with refractive error, accommodation and synchronization.



A basic near/far eye movement exercise. For example, hold up a pencil at arms length and focus on the tip and then move it slowly in towards yourself, then slowly back out. Do this for several times, keeping your eyes fixed on the pencil. Tromboning is a good exercise because, for most of us, our lifestyles do not allow us the kind of near/far eye work that was part of everyday life in past generations. We do spend so much more time indoors, and doing close up work. So tromboning has an important role.

It is very important to note: The general forms of tromboning cannot directly improve binocular (both eyes working together) synchronization. These exercises could in fact be done with one eye! In other words, if the vision in one eye is suppressed (turned off or limited), you may not even know that one eye (the other one!) is doing all the work. I have seen someone with mild strabismus doing tromboning, and they did not even know one eye was off line! This kind of suppression of vision in one eye can end up contributing to deterioration in many refractive/vision errors.


Edging or Tracking

Edging is where you focus on the edges or lines around objects, following the lines to as much detail as you can. The more precision, combined with movement, required  for your eyes to follow these edges, lines and shapes the better. Also varying the distances to objects you choose helps. Switching from close to far etc. This exercise is similar in effect to eye rotation, swinging and tracking style activities.

These exercises are all good for the extra ocular muscles. That is, the ones that control movement of the eye. However, they are of almost zero value for the accommodation, or focusing ability. Like tromboning, they do not deal with suppression, so errors in focus and getting the eyes working together remain hidden.



(From Bates) The recommendations for this exercise range from facing into sunlight with the eyes shut, to using a light of some kind. The idea is to close your eyes, while facing bright light, and gently moving the head from side to side, watching the light move in the opposite direction to your movement.

As noted, Bates introduced this technique, but it is also very important to keep in mind that electric lighting was not in use until over half way through his life. Even when it was introduced its brightness and quality were probably inferior to ours.

The exercise can have value in improving pupil dilation/constriction. This process is called myosis, and is responsible for how much light is permitted to enter the eye. It is possible that weakness in this response may, in a small way, contribute to off axis light rays. ie too much light for the eye to focus clearly. (note below how pinhole glasses work ). The gentle movement and transition from dark to light and light to dark may benefit this response.

To gain this benefit we would only recommend “sunning” be done with a suitable lighting, not the sun. A great way to do it is to use a desk lamp or something similar in a darkened room. (With the eyes shut). This highlights the contrast between dark and light when moving the head slowly from side to side, or up and down. Again, take great care not to look directly into the light if you use this technique.


Pirate patches (or drops)

The Pirate Patch is a hallowed item in the treatment of ambylopia, (other methods may include surgery (depending on causes) and or glasses). The patch is usually worn over the “stronger” eye to force the weaker one to do more work. The down side of patches is that if they are worn too long they can weaken the strong eye. There is evidence that partial occlusion is more effective.

Importantly, the patch may also be detrimental to synchronization of focus and convergence. This is especially critical if strabismus (where one eye is out of line with the other, crossed or focused elsewhere) is associated with the problem. With strabismus there are two critical issues:

The first issue in strabismus is loss of vision perception due to the eye being “unused”. The second, is the synchronization and coordination of convergence and accommodation. Any treatment which undermines these should be carefully evaluated, if not avoided. Preferred treatment will work toward strengthening sight and vision in the affected eye. At the same time it should include comprehensive eye exercises and vision therapy to address the synchronization of both eyes.That is, the binocular vision.

A modern alternative to the eye patch is the use of drops to blur the vision in the good eye. These are seen by some as a great option because, unlike the pirate patch, they attract no attention from others. An important detail for children at school etc.

These drops are placed in the strong eye to suppress the vision in an attempt to force the other eye to work. Avoiding the “appearance” issues has its benefits. On the other hand, drops suggest a very unnatural way to deal with an issue. Anyone who has a strong emphasis on natural methods to rebuild or maintain our health should weigh up the issues. Introducing a chemical into the eye, when there are perfectly natural ways of achieving the same result, should perhaps be seriously questioned.


**** Checklist for Eye Exercises ****

Pirate Patches NO – You must have a method which allows binocular activity

Pinhole glasses – Good = should not be used as an exercise

Palming – good = harmless and generally helpful

Edging & tracking – good = harmless and generally helpful

Bead String – good, but with limited effect – there is now better on the market

Tromboning – near far eye exercises – good and important

Stereoscopic – eye exercises very important

Binocular synchronization eye exercises – very important

Scanning eye exercisesvery important

Convergence/Divergence/Accommodation eye exercises – very important

And, of course, nutrition, positive attitudes, and emotional well being are very important.


The Eye Gym Program 

1. A unique bead string which is more effective in dealing  with suppression than the traditional string. (Excellent for cross eye as well.)

2. An accommodation convergence device specifically for short sighted and far sighted vision issues.

3. Charts incorporate a range of exercises to give your eyes a powerful, but fun workout.

4. A method which achieves the same effect as the pirate patch without the negatives.

Many people have improved their vision though correct eye exercises and therapy. However, please be sure what vision issues you are dealing with, as there are some issues eye exercise cannot help. eg, serious astigmatism, macro degeneration, cataracts etc.


Copyright, Chris Barrett, B.A.,Th. 2009

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